Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Snap judgement: The K-Man's apology

Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer on the legendary sitcom Seinfeld, got himself in hot water over the weekend for an out-of-control, tourette-like racial tirade (NSFW) against two black audience members who had been heckling him during a comedy club appearance.

This triggered our latest national obsession: The apology demand. Whether it stems from a verbal attack on a different ethnic group or a slur against the intelligence of our troops, nothing unites the nation (or the nation's press and chattering class) more than forcing a boldface name to confess his verbal sins and throw himself at the mercy of a judging public.

While I must confess I don't really care if Richards apologizes or not, I was very interested in how he would go about apologizing. As an actor, Richards is known for making strange choices with his characters. Would the same hold true for his apologies?

The answer is yes -- and delightfully so. Others may disagree, but I've already elevated Richard's performance last night on Letterman to the gold standard of celebrity apologies, for the following reasons:

Timing: News of the weekend tirade broke at about 9 AM on Monday. By late afternoon Richards was taping his apology on Letterman. It helped that his close friend and career-enabler Jerry Seinfeld had already been scheduled as Monday's Late Show guest. That's just luck. But no one ever said luck doesn't play a role in a great apology.

Appearance: Because the show Seinfeld remains king of the syndicated re-runs, Michael Richards is still fresh to television audiences. The Richards of ten-plus years ago, that is. Richards has lost hair and weight in the interim. His surprisingly gaunt, balding appearance on Letterman backed up how stressed out and devastated he claimed to be.

Anachronistic racial terminology: During his apology Richards repeatedly refers to blacks as "Afro-Americans." While far short of a racial slur, "Afro-American" is not the kind of language anyone who has consulted a publicist or speechwriter would use. This gave the apology an air of heartfelt sincerity.

Rambling crazy talk: Part of Richard's explanation for how the incident happened is that when he gets on stage he can get out-of-control. So why not throw in a little crazy talk during the apology to drive that point home? I knew what Richards was getting at when he invoked comics helping Katrina victims. But the way he said it didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Volume control: In a move more five-year old than professional actor, Richards speaks louder and louder the more bothered he gets. This effectively infantilizes Richards and makes him seem less responsible for his actions.

A little help from your friends: Michael Richards is not that famous. Jerry Seinfeld is. To have Seinfeld frame the apology, admit he was sick about what Richards said, and tell the world that he still "loved" Richards was highly beneficial. Bonus points for Jerry almost choking up.

Before Seinfeld, Richards was best known for his work with the mysterious prankster Andy Kaufman. While I still think there is a chance this whole thing was a staged event befitting Kaufman's spirit of provocation, last night Richards effectively convinced me he was sorry for something.


Gone to the blogs said...

It's interesting that during the tirade he asks the audience "is this shocking?" or something along those lines. For a moment there I thought he was fully self-aware and that the whole thing was a Lenny Bruce-type outburst done for comic effect. But his sheer rage and abrupt walk-off tell me otherwise.

The real question is whether he is an anti-dentite in real life, too.

JT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JT said...

I think Bruce had a routine that wasn't far off from what Richard's was doing. I'm still holding out hope for a prank.

If it turns out everyone, from the black guys to Seinfeld and Letterman (the timing of the appearance) were in on it, it would be spectacular and weird.

Then everyone would debate the prank's appropriateness. That could get fun.

Although, Richards seemed genuinely out-of-control and later distraught. But he is an actor. .